Monday, April 21, 2014

CCSS Politics Make the Daily Beast Sad

Nobody can accuse the Daily Beast of being unclear about its position. "The Incredibly Stupid War on the Common Core" says the headline, followed by the subheading, "An unholy alliance between the Tea Party and the teachers' unions threatens to derail the most promising education reform in decades." So right off the bat, we know where Charles Upton Sahm is headed (though it should be noted that writers rarely get to write their own headlines).

The lead graph compares CCSS to Rocky being pummeled in the early rounds, then quotes Diane Ravitch, the Heritage Foundation, and Glenn Beck. Sahm then goes on to catelog the CCSS setbacks, from Bobby Jindal's backpedaling to Andy Cuomo's blasting of the implementation and creation of a review panel and Indiana (and others) pulling out of the standards. It's an odd list, counting as it does several moves that were about the cosmetics of political theater and not actual changes in position. Does Sahm think the Cuomo review panel was a Real Thing. Surely he didn't miss their findings ("It's all good!"). And it doesn't take much research to note that in many states, nothing has changed about Common Core except the name on the label.

This is a new type of spin. From bluster and confidence ("momentary, meaningless setbacks or no consequence") we've moved to playing the underdog ("boy, we are really on the ropes now"). What's the play here? Are we trying to get CCSS opponents to put up their gloves and go home for a victory celebration? Or are we trying to win the sympathy of the crowd so that they'll shower their support on poor beleagured Rocky "Common Core" Balboa?

Sahm also mentions the AFT and NEA, once enthusiastic supporters, are now distancing themselves, notes the NYSUT bailed, but he parenthetically chalks this up to concerns over the "new, more difficult tests."

This is worth noting because these days The Test never leaves the house without "more difficult" by its side. The implication is always that these new tests are more difficult, more challenging and that's why they bother people. "More difficult" is a useful weasel phrase because everybody assumes that it's a legitimate "more difficult." It's more difficult to go into the boxing ring against an opponent who's bigger and stronger than you are. Of course, it's also more difficult to go into the boxing ring with ferrets crazy-glued to your eyebrows and a dozen angry hamsters in your shorts, but people don't think along those lines because we wouldn't actually describe the ferret-and-hamster option as "more difficult" but would instead call it "crazy unreasonable stupid." By constantly describing the new tests as more difficult, writers keep directing peoples' attention away from the ferrets and hamsters.

Sahm says that "unfortunately" the debate about the Core is more about politics than education. Well, duh. The Core has been more about politics than education from day one. Why would today be any different. If the Core were about education, the conversation about it would have included educators. But it was created by politicians and businessmen for politicians and businessmen. Honest to Stallone, Charles-- teachers have been trying to make the debate about education for several years now, but nobody in power seems to want to do that.

And we go straight from unfortunately politics to Peggy Noonan handicapping Jeb Bush because he has stapled his Presidential hopes to CCSS.

"So what's all this hysteria about?" asks Sahm, and, wow, buddy, I see what you did there. "Hysteria" from the Latin "crazy-ass women with their silly vaginas and not-too-strong thinky parts be getting all worked up over some stupid thing that smart penissy men know better than to emote over."

Sahm does a quick recap of the Standard Issue History of CCSS, starting with "A Nation at Risk" and moving through the governors getting "curriculum experts" and as always I'm amazed at these folks who are unfamiliar with how the internet works. So click here to watch David Coleman explain that the Core was written by a "collection of unqualified people." So, not curriculum experts. (Also-- why do we need curriculum experts to create something that isn't a curriculum?)

This is also the CCSS story that notes retrospectively that President Obama's support in 2009 was a Bad Thing that created a political liability with people on the Right. This part of the narrative is intriguing; I am wondering how, in a non-federalized CCSS alternate universe, the CCSS ever is adopted. First, in that universe, what mysterious force makes the corporate backers/writers of the Core sit back and say, "Yeah, we probably shouldn't use every tool at our disposal to get every state to adopt these. If just a few adopt them, that will be good enough for us." Second, in that universe, why do states adopt the CCSS? I mean--  who would be selling it? Who would be going state to state saying, "Yes, it will make your schools awesome and only cost you a gazillion dollars to implement, and it's totally voluntary!"

CCSS supporters can complain about the damage done to their cause by federal push for CCSS adoption, but without that federal bribery (RTTT) and extortion (NCLB waivers), CCSS would be sitting in a dusty binder somewhere. This is why it's a political debate, Charles-- because it was politically created and politically pushed into states. CCSS has depended on political power for every breath it has taken in its short, wasteful life.

Sahm goes on to tell us what the standards are supposed to do in math and English (he does not bother to say how we know that the standards will accomplish these things, but it's a short article). He points out that they are not a national curriculum, just an outline of what students should learn. So, totally different things. And he grabs the low-hanging fruit of debunking the complaint about non-fiction vs. fiction.

Overall, some claim that the standards are too weak; some argue that they are too rigorous, especially in the early grades. But the Common Core is intended as a floor, not a ceiling. They represent a benchmark for what an average, well-educated student on track for college should know. Even critics agree that, in most cases, the Common Core is an improvement over the weak and haphazard state standards they are replacing. Some states are now tweaking the standards and dumping the “Common Core” label. This is fine. The important thing is that for the first time in decades states are taking a serious look at content and curriculum.

What a paragraph!! People can't even agree on whether the standards are too hard or too easy-- those dopes! The CCSS is a floor for what every average student on track for college should learn, and watch Sahm just sail straight past the assumption that every single student in this country should be prepared for college, or that where you have an average student, you must also have a below-average student. Because every student here in Lake Woebegone should be getting ready for college. Some critics agree that the CCSS is better than old standards, and I guess Sahm wore out his googler finding those quotes for the lead paragraph, so here we'll just have to take his word for it. He admits that some states are monkeying around with the CCSS (why no mention of the copyright, Charles?), and says it's great that we're at least talking about content and curriculum, which is odd because I hear that even some supporters of the Common Core agree that it's not actually a curriculum.

He deploys the current talking point about how implementation is rocky and that's totally expectable and no reason to get all wigged out, and that whether the CCSS work or not will totally be up to the states' implementations.

For the finish, lets' quote David Brooks' lamebrained NYT piece and insist that people who don't love the Core are misinformed and opposing a perfectly sensible program because of hysterical-- oh, that word again. Let's throw in an appeal to the sensible center, and return to our Rocky image of the Core being battered and bruised but still game.

You know what everybody always forgets about the first Rocky movie? At the end of the big climactic boxing match, Rocky loses.

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